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Art museum directors call for boycott

December 5, 2008 |  1:25 pm

Nachurch The Assn. of Art Museum Directors today issued a stinging rebuke of the National Academy Museum in New York, which quietly sold two masterpieces of American painting from its collection in recent weeks to cover operating expenses, in violation of ethical standards in the museum profession. Deaccessions (or sales) of art from museum collections is a subject fraught with difficulty, but in any case cannibalizing the collection to pay the light bill is forbidden. Income received can be used only for the acquisition of other art.

News of the sale was broken this morning by Lee Rosenbaum, who blogs as CultureGrrl at artsjournal.com. The buyer of the Hudson River School pictures -- one by Frederic Edwin Church (shown here), the other by Sanford Robinson Gifford -- is not known.

The speed with which the AAMD reacted to events is unusual for the professional organization, which hasn't always been quick to uphold its own principles, but it is certainly warranted. The statement censures the National Academy, calling for the equivalent of a professional boycott of the institution.

Read the full release after the jump.

-- Christopher Knight

New York, NY, December 5, 2008 -– The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) releases the following statement:

Art museums collect works of art for the benefit of present and future generations. The conservation, exhibition, and study of the collection are the heart of a museum’s service to its community and to the public.

It is therefore a fundamental professional principle that works can only be deaccessioned to provide funds to acquire works of art and enhance a museum’s collection. The Association of Art Museum Directors is deeply concerned to learn that the National Academy Museum has deaccessioned works of art from its collection to pay for operating expenses. Prior to this decision, AAMD contacted the National Academy in the hope that we could offer assistance in investigating alternatives to deaccessioning, and to support the museum in upholding the highest professional standards as it faces current challenges.

The National Academy is now breaching one of the most basic and important of AAMD’s principles by treating its collection as a financial asset, rather than the cornerstone of research, exhibition, and public programming, a record of human creativity held in trust for people now and in the future.

In the notification of its decision to AAMD last evening, the National Academy voluntarily withdrew from membership in the organization. It is not, however, membership in AAMD per se, but rather a broader commitment to ethical museum practice that demands adherence to the principles governing deaccessioning. Therefore, we have no choice but to censure the National Academy for this action. Consistent with AAMD’s Code of Ethics, we call on our members to suspend any loans of works of art to and any collaborations on exhibitions with the National Academy.

Photo: Frederic Edwin Church, "Scene on the Magdalene," 1854. Credit: National Academy

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